Before we can even begin to discuss memes, we first need to define what memes are. Memes are an abbreviated form of the term memetic, and the Cambridge English Dictionary provides two examples of what the word "meme" might mean:
Over the time that memes have existed, it had a massive influence on human behaviour; whether it is a bad or good influence depends on the person. Apparently, humans are the only species that are in possession of memes. Characteristics of memes are that they can be multiplied, shared, and adapted. In ‘The meme is dead, long live the meme’, written by Roy Christopher, depicts that Limor Shifman makes an excellent attempt at connecting the Dawkinsian memes with the internet memes that exist.
Manoel Horta Ribeiro posted about how Dawnkinsian memes are related to Richard Dawkins, who said that memes were constructed like a gene but ultimately for information. However, that differs from the memes we know of today. As a result, the gene, not the individual or the species, is the fundamental component of the evolutionary process, according to Dawkins. Self-sacrifice and empathy can thus be explained if living organisms are viewed as “gene survival robots,” with the primary goal of ensuring that our genes are passed down to future generations.
Memes, according to Dawkins, serve the same function in the mind as genes do in the body: they are vehicle-using replicators. As an example, Darwin uses religion to explain his theory further. Religion, even though it is not encoded in our DNA, replicates itself from person to person, mutates as it spreads, and is dependent on its attributes for success. The cultural evolution of ideas seems to be congruent with the replicator evolution hypothesis, which proposes that evolution occurs by natural selection.
However, the meaning of memes has evolved. If we take a look at pop culture, the definition of meme changed as a synonym for activities, concepts, catchphrases, or pieces of media that the masses involve themselves in and, as a result, will spread those ideas via the internet.
Since memes are spread around the internet, it makes them very accessible to everyone. Furthermore, anyone can make memes, and they can include any topic the creator would like. Nevertheless, there are bad and good sides to this creative freedom. Social media apps like TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook help them spread and reach audiences. Memes can cause a lot of controversy about how the media and society react to them. For example, when Queen Elizabeth died, there were a lot of memes created surrounding her death. The topics went from the assassination of Diana to colonial countries that once were under the rule of the United Kingdom and many more.
The controversy that followed was that the majority of the people did not care about the Queen’s death and were instead making funny memes, which spread rapidly. Nonetheless, these kinds of memes had an enormous social impact. There are also other topics memes can spread like body positivity and racism. However, again it depends on how people react to these kinds of memes since everyone is entitled to their own opinion. I do have a feeling that most memes gain attention because they approach heavy topics through a lens of humour or irony. Which gains all kinds of reactions and creates awareness.
To conclude, memes can cover a lot of topics that can vary through a political, social, or entertaining eye. Moreover, because memes can come in a variety of forms, like challenges, pictures, or phrases, it can be done by anyone there is, and because of the internet is even more accessible. In this way, it influences society in different ways and manners. It can raise awareness or cause controversy, depending on who you ask.
Christopher, Roy. “The Meme Is Dead, Long Live the Meme.” In Post Memes: Seizing the Memes of Production, edited by Alfie Bown and Dan Bristow, 31–44. Punctum Books, 2019. https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctv11hptdx.5
Ribeiro, Manoel Horta. “On Internet Memes and What Dawkins Meant by Memes.” On internet memes and what Dawkins meant by memes – Manoel Horta Ribeiro –. Accessed September 19, 2022. https://manoelhortaribeiro.github.io/posts/2019/06/dawkins-memes.
Figure 1 Meme about Queen Elizabeth. https://twitter.com/Natans_Lover/status/1569182247135383552/photo/1